Thursday, July 31, 2014

DA: Holmes defense tried to sway potential jurors

Colorado theater shooting prosecutors accuse defense of trying to influence potential jurors

Posted on April 29, 2014 at 5:27 p.m.

DENVER (AP) — Prosecutors in the Colorado theater shootings accused defense lawyers of trying to influence potential jurors when they publicized James Holmes’ offer last year to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence.

In a court filing released Tuesday, prosecutors said Holmes’ lawyers might have thought that making the offer public could help them eventually find a juror who would refuse to impose the death penalty knowing Holmes was willing to plead guilty.

Under Colorado law, a single juror is enough to block execution.

Doug Wilson, who heads the state public defenders’ office, which is representing Holmes, did not immediately return a phone message. Lawyers on both sides routinely decline comment because of a gag order.

Holmes pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to charges of killing 12 people and injuring 70 others who were watching a Batman movie in the Denver suburb of Aurora in July 2012. He faces 166 counts, including murder and attempted murder.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. In a March 2013 filing, defense attorneys said Holmes would plead guilty if he could avoid execution, but prosecutors rejected the offer.

The allegations against defense lawyers were part of a prosecution response to a defense motion to move Holmes’ trial out of Arapahoe County, where the massacre took place. The response was filed Monday but released Tuesday.

Prosecutors accused the defense of deliberately publicizing the plea offer and then complaining that it was pre-trial publicity.

“The defendant should not be allowed to improperly include irrelevant information in a (publicly) available document and then complain that the information has been made available to the public,” prosecutors wrote.

Prosecutors also said it is too early to consider a change of venue because jury selection is not yet underway, so it’s not clear whether news coverage of the crime and the aftermath has prejudiced potential jurors.

Jury selection is scheduled to start in October.

Prosecutors disputed the defense claim that news accounts have tainted the jury pool.

Prosecutors also said moving the trial would be a hardship for the victims who wanted to attend and could pose a security threat to victims and witnesses who have reported being harassed by conspiracy theorists and Holmes supporters.

Reports of harassment first surfaced in October 2012.

Prosecutors said Arapahoe County has sufficient officers to protect victims and witnesses, but other counties might not.

Holmes’ attorneys asked for a change of venue three weeks, saying potential jurors have been exposed to prejudicial news coverage and carry emotional scars from the massacre.

Arapahoe County District Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. hasn’t said when he will rule on the motion.

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